One more challenge completed!

16 Sep

I’ve been thinking for the best part of the last week if I have completed another one of my #40Before40 challenges.

I wasn’t sure if that I had done counted or not but, after I wrote down on paper the criteria, I am now convinced that I have completed Challenge #20 from my list: to throw a birthday party for myself.

I can’t remember the last time I had a birthday party. To be honest, I am not really a huge celebrator of birthdays not because I don’t like getting old, but more because it is a bit of a faff to organise and people tend to let you down. I thought I make the effort to have a party and see if this time that I felt different about inviting people over to celebrate.

In my consideration of the criteria for a party, I came up with this list:

  • Invited guests
  • Uninvited guests
  • Selection of food and drink
  • Birthday cake
  • A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday
  • Presents
  • A speech from the celebrating person
  • Party game
  • Huge amounts of tidying up

Let’s look in turn at each of these:

Invited Guests

Either by Whatsapp or by mouth people received an invitation to come. My original idea was to make handmade or printed invitation but then I would need to find out peoples’ addresses to send them. It was a lot easier to send everyone a message and get a quick reply if they were able to make it or not.

Uninvited Guests

There is always someone who turns up unannounced or someone brings some one to the party who hasn’t specifically been invited. In my case, this was the neighbours’ cat. As we had a BBQ, we were outside and the cat made an appearance. I think he was scared about the number of people who were there and he didn’t stick around for long.

Selection of food and drinks

If anything, we prepared a selection of food and drinks that was far, far too much. One fridge was full with beer and the other was full with food. There was plenty of food to go on the grill, salads, finger food and desserts. We had so much left over but enough room in the freezer to save it for another time.

Birthday cake

I didn’t plan to have a birthday cake but I was fairly confident that one of my guests would bring one for me. Luckily, my friend, Stefan, didn’t let me know. He made me a fantastic Spider-Man cake that I am sure that he spent hours and hours made. It not only looked amazing, but it tasted incredible too.

A rousing chorus of Happy Birthday

I was treated to Happy Birthday in English and in German, which I think deserves double points. I think I did have Happy Birthday sung to me last year but it is an essential part of birthday party.

Presents

I was treated to some lovely presents. The main theme of my presents was a high alcohol content. I think I should be ok for alcoholic drinks from now until next March. I will need to consume it all before I take on my challenge of not drink for a year. It seems more and more unlikely that I will be able to achieve this and I haven’t decided when to start this challenge yet. I have been trying to find a “good time” to do it but I don’t think that such a thing exists.

A speech from the celebrating person

I did make a small speech to thank everyone for coming and making the party a success. I was actually really pleased about how many people had made the effort to come.

Party game

There was a Swiss game of King’s Chess that was played in the garden area outside. I’m still not 100% sure what the rule of the games were but it involved throwing wooden blocks at your opponents’ posts and being the first to knock down the King in the middle.

Huge amounts of tidying up

It’s strange that you spend so long cleaning your place for guest to come round and when they have left you have to start the cleaning all over again. The washing machine was put on about five times, the floors in the apartment had to be wasted again, the recycling taken to the recycling centre, crockery returned to the right guest and tables and chairs that we had borrowed from relatives returned as well.

Looking at the evidence, it is fair to say that I have now completed Challenge #20 of my #40Before40.

I did genuinely enjoy the party. I wasn’t able to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked (which is the downside of hosting so many people) and it was hard work getting everything ready and tidying up but it was worth it and I would do it again. Thank you to everyone who came to join the celebrations!

Happy Anniversary

13 Sep

Today http://www.ourgirlinzurich.com is 6 years old. How time flies!

I started my blog six years ago because this was the time when I found out that I had received a job offer in Switzerland, which I decided to accept. Six years later, I am still in the Land of Milk and Money.

My original idea for my blog was to be able to keep in touch with people back home – sort of a regular newsletter so that friends and family could see what I had been getting up to and I could share some of the highs and lows of living in another country. Although I did take a bit of a break in the middle, I have been regularly blogging since then.

My blog is still a way for loved ones to check up on me but it has also become more than that. I now have a growing amount of followers in many different countries. Some are interested in what I write about life in Switzerland and trying to learn the German language, others are interested in how I am getting on with my #40Before40 challenges. The answer is: very, very slowly!

It’s a wonderful feeling when someone tells you that they read your blog and they are really interested in what I am getting up to. It’s even more wonderful when people tell me that I have a talent for writing or that they have been inspired by the success and ideas in my #40Before40 list.

For me, the most important part of my blog is just writing. Nothing more, nothing less. As a child and and teenager, I loved writing and that passion has never left me. If things were different and my younger self would’ve been more confident, perhaps I would be writing full-time now. But it is never to late to try to become anything that you want to be. And writing a few posts a week for you to read is a good way to improve my writing skills and to keep my desire to write alive. I hope that one day I will be able to write a post about an acceptance letter from a publisher or the date when my new book will be in the shops.

Until then, thank you for visiting and reading my blog. You might not realise it but you are keeping me motivated with you kind, lovely and inspiring comments!

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Four years to go…

5 Sep

It is now only four years until my 40th birthday and hopefully in this time I will have completed all the items on my #40Before40 list.

One year into the challenge I have completed 4 out of the 40 challenges. This sounds disappointing but several of the challenges are well underway and should be completed sooner rather than later.

The challenges I have already completed are:

  • Enter a photography competition
  • Go to the Opera
  • Go vegan for 3 months
  • Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours

Here is an update of where I am with the rest of the as-yet incomplete challenges:

  1. Pass C2 Goethe German exam – planned for November 2018. My life is currently a sea of German verbs, Grammar and practice exam papers and I am motivated so that I don’t have to take any more German lessons after the start of November.
  2. Visit 40 countries in Europe – visited 26 out of 40 and at least two more visits planned before the end of 2018.
  3. Go paragliding
  4. Enter a photography competition – completed on 16.01.2018
  5. Write my will and plan my funeral
  6. (Re)Learn the flute
  7. Go alcohol-free for a year
  8. Watch every movie on iMDB Top 250 Films list – watched 120 out of 250
  9. Write a novel (at least 50,000 words) – I have a number of ideas that I am currently working on and then I just need to chain myself to a chair and write.
  10. Beat at least one of my running PBs for 10k, 10 miles, half marathon or marathon – I have been struggling with a knee injury for most of this year so unfortunately I will have to try to complete this next year and hopefully my knee will be fit enough to get me round quickly enough
  11. Read the Bible cover to cover
  12. Go to the Opera – completed on 04.07.2018
  13. See the Northern Lights
  14. Go vegan for 3 months – completed on 15.07.2018
  15. Have something that I have written published
  16. Save money for a rainy day
  17. Write a diary for a year – currently in progress
  18. Take a Hot Air Balloon ride
  19. Take part in an Ultra race – I was hoping to do this in 2019 but with the knee injury that I have had in 2018, I might have to wait until 2020
  20. Throw a birthday party for myself
  21. Watch a series of 24 in 24 hours – completed on 25.11.2017
  22. Learn how to wolf whistle
  23. Try snowboarding
  24. Take an overnight sleeper train
  25. Cook every recipe from one cookbook – currently in progress – completed 60 out of 100 recipes
  26. Learn how to fold 40 origami designs
  27. Read 40 novels in German – read 6 out of 40
  28. Take a wine degustation course
  29. Read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read read 15 out of 40
  30. Solve a Rubik cube – currently in progress
  31. Take up a new sport
  32. Catch, cook and eat a fish
  33. Make an item of clothing to wear
  34. Stop biting my nails
  35. Read 40 non-fiction books –  read 6 out of 40
  36. Fly long-haul business class
  37. Have a haircut at least 4 times a year – this is in progress but I am not going to tell you every time I have a haircut! That would be far too boring to read about!
  38. Be able to touch my toes
  39. Downsize – get rid of anything I don’t need or want by selling, giving away or donating
  40. Start and maintain my own travel website – the planning for this is well underway and I am hoping to go live in early 2019

Slow and steady progress – I will get there in the end!

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No regrets…

2 Sep

…at least not yet. This weekend I have done something drastic that in 10 weeks, or precisely 69 days, will come to fruition.

I have entered the C2 German exam. This is basically the highest qualification that a foreigner can attain when studying another language.

At the moment I have the time to sit and work my way through the grammar and the practice tests. If I waited until next year then I would just be putting off the inevitable. At least now I have a goal and something to work towards. I am hoping that it will help to focus me a bit more and that German words will learn to stick in my head, rather than me forgetting everything the second I have finished reading it.

The exam is relatively intensive. There are four modules: reading, writing, listening and speaking. I don’t have a favourite module (I used to when the level of German that I was learning was a lot easier!). I am under no illusions that if I was to sit the exam today that I would either fail outright or scrape a pass in some parts but not in others. But I do have some time left and between now and then. It would be nothing short of an impossibility that by November 10th I don’t improve just a little bit. I am already imagining myself being the very proud owner of a certificate by the middle of December, when the results come through.

As if that motivation isn’t enough, the first challenge of my #40Before40 is to pass the C2 German exam. One more challenge crossed off the list is perhaps more motivation than I can put into words. But this is definitely one of the most difficult challenges on my list. I guess it is time to hit the books and make sure I give myself a good chance of passing. Wish me luck!

Proof that I’ve taken the first step!

Things I learnt in August

31 Aug

Another month is almost over and I have been having a think about what interesting things that I have learnt this month.

1. A flying fox and a fruit bat are the same thing. This made my brain hurt when I found this out this week. I ‘m not sure exactly what I thought a flying fox was. I didn’t think that it was a type of bat though. bat-2639114_960_720If you look at this picture though, you can see that it does look a bit like a fox so I can understand where the name now comes from. It’s always confusing when people use different words for the same thing. Like the whole debate about what a small bread roll in English is called. I’m not even going to open that can of worms.

2. According to my knee doctor, my knee is (and I quote) perfect. I don’t want to sound like I am showing off but he did use the word perfect several times when talking about the cartilage, tendons and ligaments in my right knee. He was able to “show” me this because I had an MRI scan for a knee problem that I’ve had a bit of trouble shaking off. So I had the MRI as a precaution to make sure that everything in my knee was still in one piece. It was reasserting to know that after playing so much sport over the years, running a marathon and trying to be a regular runner hasn’t had a negative effect on my joints so far. Which means that I have no fear about training for one of my next challenges – to run an Ultramarathon.

3. I am a turophile. I love eating cheese. I really could sit and eat cheese until I made myself sick and then I would probably carry on eating again. Not being able to eat cheese was the hardest part of my vegan challenge. I looked up the etymology of the word it comes from the Greek word for cheese which is “turos”. Interesting stuff!cheese-1972744__340

4. Patience is a virtue. Recently I have been waiting for news and I have realised that I’m just got good at it. As much as I try to not think about it and distract myself by doing other things, I still end up checking my emails every fifteen minutes. I am not even sure if it is possible to train yourself to be more patient. If someone does know if it is possible, please feel free to get in touch!

5. Classic novels are wasted on youths. In the last month I have read a few classic novels that I have been meaning to read for an age. I have also just started reading Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen and I will probably read Wuthering Heights next. When I was at school, I hated reading all of these classics. It wasn’t because I had to read them for an exam but I just found them boring. Perhaps it is an age thing but I do enjoying reading these novels now. At school students shouldn’t be forced to read classics but be encouraged to read whatever they find interest.

And that is the 8th month of 2018 finished! I hope you have also learnt some interesting things this month.

Spain and Andorra

29 Aug

Last weekend we went to visit some of my boyfriend’s friends just outside of Barcelona. It was a nice short break and we managed to eat, drink and see a lot.

After collecting our rental car, we drove to Montserrat, a mountain range just outside Barcelona. The views from the top were nothing short of stunning. It is possible to walk to the top but we took the cable car to save our legs!

There is an impressive Basilica at the top and even more impressive queues to go into the church and pray to the Madonna at the top of the High Altar. Because of the heat, we decided not to wait but to go and have some lunch.

Later we drove to Manresa, where we would be staying. We found an amazing jamón shop where we tried some jamón, tomato bread and red wine. The wine was only 1.50 Euros and I was expecting it to taste like vinegar but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. When we met up with our hosts, we got ready to go for evening meal and then onto a club where there was a jazz festival. It was a great atmosphere but after food and an early flight we were happy to go home for some rest.

The next day we went to Andorra. If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I have a #40Before40 challenge, in which I have challenged myself to do 40 challenges before I turn 40 (I have a few years to go yet!). One of my challenges is to visit 40 European countries and Andorra is one that I haven’t been to before.

Andorra wasn’t what I expected. It is a shoppers’ paradise because there are no taxes on the goods. It felt like every shop sold tobacco, booze, perfume and shoes and nothing else. I thought it had a bit of a weird atmosphere – like a place that’s in between here and there. I can’t imagine living there. It also took a long time to get in and out because so many people were crossing the border to get a bargain. However, I have been and it’s one less country to visit.

The next day we went to Sitges, a coastal town near to Barcelona. I had visited once before as part of a business trip but it was nice to go back again, especially for the delicious paella! I think Sitges is a bit like Blackpool for Spanish people. It was packed with lots of people who were just there for the weekend.

And then it was time to come home to Switzerland. I’m sure that weekends go quicker than weekdays – the secret is then to enjoy the weekends more!

Challenge #8 – update

25 Aug

Challenge number 8 on my #40Before40 is to watch all of the 250 Top Films as rated on iMDB.

I have now watched 120 out of 250 films, which means I am almost half way to the finish line!

23. The Silence of the Lambs

I thought that I had seen this before but I obviously hadn’t because the opening scenes were what I thought were the closing scenes. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be but I now know why the book version that my Dad used to have on his bedside table showed a person with a moth over the mouth. This hasn’t done anything for my moth-phobia. I thought the plot twist at the end was a little bit predictable but otherwise it was relatively enjoyable.

27. Léon: The Professional

This was the story of a professional hitman, who takes a orphaned girl in after her family have been brutally murdered. He teaches her how to make a hit but when she decides to kill the people who murdered her family things start to go round. It was action-packed, although the ending was a little bit predictable.

29. Spirited Away

Only one word can describe this film – weird! It was a Japanese Anime and I wasn’t sure what was going on most of the time. A girl is transported into a parallel world where her parents have been turned into pigs. She has to work in order to free them and return back to reality. It was confusing and surreal to watch. I just didn’t get it.

32. Interstellar

I have so many questions about the movie plot that I still don’t understand. The basic premise is that NASA is searching for other planets for the human race to escape to because nothing grows on the earth any more apart from corn. I was kind of with the plot until there is a long exploration of time being a non-linear concept. At this point it just became a bit too surreal for me. I don’t know why this film is so high on the list. It was ok but I didn’t think it was incredible.

34. City Lights

This is the first silent movie I have ever seen. It stars Charlie Chaplin as a tramp who falls in love with a blind girl. I found it really funny but sometime a bit predictable because the jokes have obviously been stolen and rehashed over the years. It also amazing how you don’t need dialogue to understand what is going on throughout the film.

37. The Intouchables

This is a French film (I watched it with subtitles) and is based on a true story. It’s about a carer and his patient who is an incredibly intelligent man but is paraplegic. At some parts of the film, I was howling with laughter. It was incredibly real and the end was heartwarming. It is to discover films like this that I would never watch normally.

38. Modern Times

Another Charlie Chaplin film on the list. I like that the characters in his films don’t have any name; he is just called “the Tramp” or “the factory worker”. Half of the time I don’t remember the characters in a film once I have watched it. The story is about a factory worker who has a nervous breakdown and then accidentally gets sent to jail when the police wrongly think that he is the leader of a protest. Like City Lights, I liked the jokes and the slapstick comedy.

42. Rear Window

Another Hitchcock film on the list and one of my favourites of his so far – there are quite a few Hitchcock films on the list. The story is set in an apartment block. The main character, played by James Stewart, is recuperating from a broken leg and spends all day watching the neighbours come and go. Things take a drastic turn when he witnesses a possible murder in an adjacent flat. I also spotted Hitchcock’s cameo when he was winding up a clock in an apartment when he was playing a butler.

45. Whiplash

I had no idea what this was going to be about – possible someone suffering with the after effects of a car accident and was thinking of suing? Thankfully it was about a young drummer trying to break into the music industry and his relationship with his mentor. It explores the fine line that exists between trying to nurture talent and the consequences when someone is pushed to their limits. It had a very moral and ethical undertone to it.

47. The Prestige

Another film that I have never even heard of on the list. It’s the story of the rivalry of two magicians. It’s one of those films that you could re-watch to get all of the clues about how the story will unfold. I had managed to pick up most of the clues but it was only right at the end that I had the “A-ha!” moment. Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it!

79. Requiem for a Dream

Three words to describe this film: weird, weird and weird. It explores the relationship that four people have with drugs, though not all of them are illegal drugs. It is shot in a dream-like manner where reality and fantasy overlap each other. I still don’t know how I feel about the film as a whole. The ending was abrupt and left me wanting to know what would happen later to the characters, although there is an overwhelming sense that the characters are all trapped and they won’t be able to achieve the dreams and the lives that they were hoping for.

94. The Sting

This was a film about some conmen and the elaborate sting that they set up. I couldn’t really get into it. It seemed a little bit outdated when you have seen the Ocean’s series. The best thing was Robert Redford’s dapper pin-striped suit and matching hat.

104. The Hunt

This is the story of a teacher, who is falsely accused of child abuse by his best friend’s daughter. Halfway through I was wondering what this had to do with “The Hunt” but the title of the film has a double meaning but you only find that out at the end of the film. An interesting portrayal of something that often happens in our society.

156. Dial M for Murder

A man blackmails a friend to kill his wife but it all goes wrong and the police soon suspect that he is to blame but proving it is difficult. Another Hitchcock’s film but not one of the best of them, in my opinion. I did think this was the best cameo role that Hitchcock plays.

197. The Grand Budapest Hotel

I have been avoiding this film for a while but I think it’s because I was mixing it up with the film with a similar title. It is one of the best films that I have seen in a long time, even though it had Jude Law in it. It’s all about a valuable painting that is inherited by a hotel employee and the family of the deceased trying to steal it back. Funny, strange and wonderful all at the same time.

182. Into the Wild

Another true story in the list about a young man who leaves his family and hometown without a word because he doesn’t want to live according to society’s rules. He survives by moving from place to place earning enough money to get by and learns how to hunt and fend for himself off the land. He also visits Salvation Mountain which I did a few years back. I remember our tour guide saying that it was featured in a film and since then lots of people have come to see it.

243. In the Mood for Love

This was set in Hong Kong and Singapore and was mainly in Cantonese so it was lucky that I was able to get the film with subtitles. It’s the story about two neighbours who realise that their spouses are having an affair with each other. Even though they both have feeling for each other as well after becoming friends, they find it difficult to act on their emotions because they don’t want to be cheaters, despite the actions of their partners. It’s an interesting movie and I thought the music was interesting as well.

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